Being a cabin-crew mum just got harder
As the Aer Lingus roster dispute rumbles on, Sue Leonard meets the flight attendants struggling to juggle work and family life
By Sue Leonard
Wednesday February 02 2011
Drunk football fans; women with panic attacks; screaming babies and belligerent business men... all feature in the working life of an aeroplane cabin crew. Factor in delays and cancellations, turbulence and the threat of terrorism, and it's clear that life in the air is far from glamorous.
What if, on top of all of that, you were a mum? How would you sort out your childcare? It's tough enough for the Aer Lingus crew as it is; but the proposed new rosters will make a work life balance almost impossible to negotiate.
"Childcare is a definite issue," says Niall Shanahan from the union IMPACT. "The new rosters are anti-family and unnecessary.
"Duties can be changed by three hours with little notice," says Shanahan. "You could arrive for duty at 7am to be told you are on a different flight departing up to three hours later. A nightmare if you have kids.
"Duties can be changed by up to four hours the day before the rostered shift. Weekends are affected too. All this is unacceptable."
Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair has spoken out in favour of Aer Lingus management. He says that his cabin crew work 19 flight-hour weeks, and yet, he says, there is no shortage of applications.
O'Leary is a known hard taskmaster, but what is it like to work for an airline abroad?
Alex Humphries worked as a flight attendant for six and a half years. Coming from the rat-race in London, she decided for a complete career change. She stopped flying last year when she moved to Italy with her partner, a pilot, and is now expecting her first baby.
"I worked for easyJet, then left and worked long haul for Qantas for 18 months. Then I went back to easyJet again. Shift working was a problem for my social life. I struggled to see my close friends who worked from nine to five. I'd be working weekends, and away for five to six days.
"My partner is a pilot; some weeks we'd only see each other for an hour or so. Flying paid havoc with my body clock, and my eating habits went down the drain. Flying, you often don't have time to look after yourself.
'The lifestyle was much worse for mothers. They found it very difficult, and there was a lot of sickness as well. They tended to rely on brothers, sisters, and parents. Some mums fly for 20 to 30 years. I really don't know how they do it."
Looking at the issues faced by Aer Lingus cabin crew, Alex has some sympathy.
But she says you expect unpredictability in the airline business.
"At easyJet we were on report. You'd turn up an hour before your flight, and find you were assigned a completely different route.
"Instead of flying to Madrid, which was an hour and a half there -- so three hours there and back, you'd fly to Athens which was three and a half hours -- so seven hours there and back."
She didn't get meal breaks with easyJet -- but there was usually time to grab something mid-flight.
"At easyJet we always had one weekend off a month," she says, "And at Qantas we had one every eight weeks. But airlines are having to cut costs.
"There's more competition now and the cost of fuel is up. It's tough, but it's just the way the industry works."
- Sue Leonard